Action sequences propel McGee’s rousing first of a Regency England crime series, originally published in the U.K. as Ratcatcher. When highwaymen attack a coach in a rural part of Camberwell, the villains shoot an admiralty courier dead, then cut off the courier’s hand to seize a dispatch pouch secured by a chain to the man’s wrist. Chief magistrate James Read assigns Capt. Matthew Hawkwood, an ex-army sniper now employed as a Bow Street Runner, to identify the criminals, though Read keeps Hawkwood ignorant of the stolen pouch’s contents, which are vital to the realm’s safety. Vivid and moving descriptions of the squalid areas of London more than make up for some familiar story elements, including dubious underworld allies and an attractive woman whom Hawkwood rescues from some lascivious noblemen. While the whodunit aspect is less cerebral than in the works of Bruce Alexander, historical thriller fans will look forward to the sequels. Agent: Jennifer Weltz, Jean Naggar Agency. (May)
“A darkly attractive hero, terrific period atmosphere and action that moves so fast.”
“Irresistible! Rambunctious entertainment.”
“Hawkwood has everythingduels and derring-do, London highlife and London lowlife, French lechery and treacheryall contained in a fast-moving, cleverly constructed plot with an immaculately detailed historical background.”
“A richly enjoyable and impressively researched novelalso very gripping. James McGee is clearly a rising star in the historical galaxy and I look forward to Hawkwood’s return.”
In 1811 London, Matthew Hawkwood is a larger-than-life legend, both to the criminals he now hunts as a Bow Street Runner and to those lucky enough to have seen him in action as an officer with the 95th Rifles. When a Navy officer is killed and mutilated for the message pouch he's carrying, Hawkwood is chosen to find out who did it and retrieve the top-secret information. Making his U.S. debut with this series launch, McGee populates the story with a large, involving cast of characters, but not all of them are essential to the plot's forward movement. He also liberally inserts historically appropriate details, adding a satisfying nonfiction feel to the book but also slowing its pacing to some degree. Descriptive details of a seedy, brutally violent world; the struggle between strictly upholding the law vs. punishing the truly guilty; and a host of political, military, and criminal elements counterbalance the fast-paced action once it begins. VERDICT Readers of C.S. Harris, Bernard Cornwell, and C.S. Forester, along with Dirk Pitt fans who enjoy historical fiction, will snap up this adventure. [Pegasus will also publish the other titles in this series: Resurrectionist, Rapscallion, and Rebellion.—Ed.]—Stacey Hayman, Rocky River P.L., OH
Even though he's a Bow Street Runner, Matthew Hawkwood can get caught up in international intrigue. The dashingly mysterious Hawkwood is entirely suitable as a Regency-era James Bond. Hawkwood's reputation for intelligence and bravery earned him a spot working for the chief magistrate, James Read, at the Bow Street Public Office. He's a Runner, a top-level investigator, tackling the toughest assignments. Even though Bonaparte is still messing about on the continent, Hawkwood, a veteran of the famed 95th Rifles in Wellington's Peninsular War, needed assignment elsewhere because he killed the son of an aristocrat in a duel. Now Hawkwood has been assigned to find the pair of highwaymen who killed a Royal Navy courier outside of London, but there's more afoot, and Hawkwood doesn't get all the story. McGee (Ratcatcher, 2006, etc.) decorates his adventure with historical personages and incidents, including the American Robert Fulton's attempt to sell the British or the French, or both, a "submersible" to deliver a "torpedo" capable of sinking a ship of the line. There are the requisite good guys, including a patriotic clockmaker; an appropriate number of traitors among the aristocracy and the admiralty; and a beauty to be bedded, Catherine de Varesne, a French woman posing as a refugee royalist while working to further the emperor's ambitions. The story is slow to come together, although pleasantly intriguing in atmosphere, but seemingly lacking one big bad villain for the reader to want to see drawn and quartered. The derring-do is close to standard, and McGee's characterizations are easy to buy into, especially well-sketched minor players like Nathaniel Jago, Hawkwood's sergeant from his days in the 95th, and Ezra Twigg, Read's never-to-be-outwitted assistant. The best of the writing, however, comes through McGee's capacity for rendering Regency-era London, from the street corner God-botherers to the ubiquitous packs of feral children to the footpads and ne'er-do-wells lurking in the grimiest corners of cesspools like St. Giles Rookery. Acceptable action. Vague villainy. Intriguing milieu.